The Signs of Ageing

Wrinkles? Come and have a go, if you think you're hard enough. Go on then, crows-feet, you don't scare me! I laugh at you! Ha ha ha! Grey? Grey? It's silver, you imbecile. Yes, you too can have this attitude to ageing. Just follow our three step plan, click here. By Catherine Redfern.

Catherine Redfern, 13 June 2001

Did you also know that "what every woman wants for Christmas" (or Easter, or Mothers Day) is "younger looking skin"? Did you also know there are seven signs of ageing? Oh yes. According to the cosmetic company Olay, it's not just 'ageing' in general that women fear, but now there are seven separate 'signs' which they've helpfully and very generously identified for us. These are, in no particular order:

  1. Lines and wrinkles
  2. Uneven skin texture
  3. Uneven skin tone
  4. Appearance of pores
  5. Blotches and age spots
  6. Dry skin
  7. Dullness

Olay's new range of skin care products, the Total Effects range, promises to actually reverse the ageing process: 'or your money back!'

Every part of our bodies are potential traitors that will reveal the dreaded secret of our age.

Fear of ageing is part of female culture in our society. Fair enough, part of it is due to plain fear and denial of what will eventually come to us all - death. This affects men too. However, when you really think about it, society gives women certain images and ideas about age that encourage us to try to halt the visible signs of the process. Many female beauty routines are an attempt to erase or prevent the signs of ageing. Women are encouraged to dye their hair to get rid of grey; use age-defying creme every morning and night; if our faces get saggy there's always surgery; if our breasts droop we can get implants to keep them perky. And, as Olay point out, every part of our bodies are potential traitors that will reveal the dreaded secret of our age - even our hands: 'To tell a woman's age, they used to say, look at her hands. Not any more.' That is, only if you use Olay's hand cream.

The other thing is, it's never too young to start this pointless process of holding back the years. Olay have regularly targeted young women as well as old, telling them if they start now, years before even a whisper of a wrinkle will appear on their peachy smooth skin, they'll benefit later. Another recent tv advert showed a young women who can't have been more than 22, running through fields, twirling round giggling, hands clasped to cheeks in a goofy smile (you know, the usual), while the voiceover intoned: "First wrinkles? I never even think about them." (yeah, right). "I just use [insert pretentious brand name here] every morning and evening." If that's what happens when she never thinks about it, I'd hate to see what beauty routine she follows when it is on her mind.

If our fear of age was purely about getting closer to death, then surely that problem would best be dealt with by coming to terms with the inevitable, preparing our minds to cope with it, rather than simply trying to appear visibly younger - constantly chasing after a impossible goal in a constant state of denial. There has to be something else going on. Profit is a big part of it. But so is the idea of beauty we are presented.

"Keep young and beautiful
It's your duty to be beautiful.
Keep young and beautiful,
If you want to be loved"

The problem is that beauty has always been associated with youth. Cosmetic companies just cannot comprehend the notion that beauty and youth are not inextricably connected. Its little wonder we don't want to get old when things like Olay's seven signs suggest this is all ageing brings: dullness, uneven-ness, blotches. Ugh. Olay's Total Effects foundation gives you 'younger looking skin', and this, it follows, 'helps you look beautiful and stay beautiful'. The less than subtle implication being that if you do not look young you are not beautiful. Just look around you: all the women you will see on posters, in magazines, on tv, are young. When female stars get beyond a certain age, their shows get cut despite how popular they are (think Cybill Shepherd in the USA). Think of a male newsreader with grey hair. Now think of a female one. Exactly.

Here's a telling fact as told in the book 'Beauty Bound' by Rita Freedman: as women age they are judged not only to be less beautiful but also less feminine. Youth is seen as an essential element of femininity. With every second that passes, we are becoming less womanly. Well, bollocks to that.

Despite the fact that women live longer than men, and we have a rapidly ageing population, older women are practically invisible in everyday life. What happens to them? Do they disappear? Or are they ignored?

I refuse to believe that everything from now on will be a gradual depressing decline.

Now, I am still a young woman. I haven't got wrinkles yet. But one day I will. The question is, how am I going to handle that? I sometimes wonder what age has in store for me, but I'm trying to inculcate a positive attitude within myself about it. Unlike mainstream culture, I refuse to believe that everything from now on will be a gradual depressing decline. I try to look to older role models to inspire me, but think of the few older women we do get to see: Gran from the Royle Family; or her equivalent, the Queen Mum, whose only newsworthy activity is stumbling.

But this is easy for me to say now. Perhaps when it comes to the crunch I'll do the same as Erica Jong, who explains (in her book 'What Do Women Want?');

"I don't believe. . . that age equals ugliness, or that youth and beauty are synonymous - so why should I change my face?"

But then when a friend comes back from cosmetic surgery she decides to do the same.

"I did it implusively - but as I came up from the anesthesia, I was sure I had made a terrible mistake. My face felt like a mask glued on by an evil genius."

She must, she explains, learn to 'surrender' to her new face.

"It is not so very different from the old, but it has its new imperatives. The brow is softer and less lined. There is no fat under the chin or rings under the eyes. It is not a young face but a new face. It is a moon into which no craters have been carved."

In other words, it is blank. All the history and emotion has been erased, gone for ever. This strikes me as rather a shame.

Anyway, aware that its going to take more than pure will power to come through the ageing process intact, I have developed a simple three-step plan to reverse negative views of ageing. Here goes nothing!

The Three Step Plan to Reverse Negative Views About Ageing.

Formulated and controlled by laboratoires Redfern.
Guaranteed to reverse your opinon - or your money back!

STEP ONE: Re-education

We need to hear beautiful, inspiring words about age, about looking old, about celebrating our wrinkles. We need to change the way we think and change the way we see an aged female face. Here's something which really inspired me, from Naomi Wolf:

When grey and white reflect in her hair, you could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver or moonlight.

"You could see the signs of female ageing as diseased. . . Or you could see that if a woman is healthy she lives to grow old; as she thrives, she reacts and speaks and shows emotion, and grows into her face. Lines trace her thought and radiate from the corners of her eyes after decades of laughter, closing together like fans as she smiles. You could call the lines a network of 'serious lesions,' or you could see that in a precise calligraphy, thought has etched marks of concentration between her brows, and drawn across her forehead the horizontal creases of surprise, delight, compassion and good talk. A lifetime of kissing, of speaking and weeping, shows expressively around a mouth scored like a leaf in motion. The skin loosens on her face and throat, giving her features a setting of sensual dignity; her features grow stronger as she does. She has looked around in her life, and it shows. When grey and white reflect in her hair, you could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver or moonlight. Her body fills into itself, taking on gravity like a bather breasting water, growing generous with the rest of her. The darkening under her eyes, the weight of her lids, their minute cross-hatching, reveal that what she has been part of has left in her its complexity and richness. She is darker, stronger, looser, tougher, sexier. The maturing of a woman who has continued to grow is a beautiful thing to behold. Or, if your ad revenue. . . depend[s] on it, it is an operable condition."

Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

Or how about poetry? Here's one from Jenny Joseph which looks forward to being an old woman:

Warning
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go.
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too surprised
When suddenly I am old and start to wear purple.

Jenny Joseph, Selected Poems, (Bloodaxe Books, 1992)

Finally, how about some art and images which show beautiful, confident, characterful older women, wrinkles and all. This 'Women of Age' website includes some fantastic paintings of older women, created by Alice Matzkin. They certainly prove that beauty doesn't end with youth. Who'd want to erase the wrinkles here?

STEP TWO: They've been there, done that.

We need truly inspirational older role models (factual or fictional - whatever!) who remind us that even if society thinks we've nothing left to offer we can prove them wrong. Here are a few to start you off:

Doris Haddock a.k.a. 'Granny D'

In 1999-2000 this 90 year-old grandmother walked across America from California to Washington D.C. to protest against the involvement of 'big money' in U.S. politics and in favour of election campaign finance reform. Let me repeat that: NINETY years old! She's got her own website and will be releasing an autobiography soon.

Mother Teresa

Died aged 87, she was probably the most famous Christian woman on the planet in recent times. Her face was a mass of wrinkles but this only added to her beauty.

Mary Harris Jones a.k.a. Mother Jones

At the age of 83 she was described as 'The most dangerous woman in America' by the then president, T. Roosevelt. This woman was an activist and agitator who fought for striking miners in Illinois and is now a major heroine of American labour history. For more info see the website of the magazine named after her. You can bet she didn't give a damn about 'uneven skin tone'. . .

Betty Boothroyd

In her 70s when she retired from her job as speaker of the House of Commons, the first woman to do the job. No one could say she wasn't up to it - in fact finding her replacement recently was a difficult task and commentators agreed she would be a virtually impossible act to follow.

Judi Dench

Possibly Britain's most famous and loved actress, the 66 year old is respected worldwide for her talent.

Marta Aurenes

Just this year, 91 year old Marta Aurenes who lives in Norway, signed up to train to become a pub bouncer. You go, girl!

Granny Weatherwax

My favourite older fictional character is Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. She's about 60-70ish. She's a witch. She's incredibly intelligent, strong, resourceful, independent and doesn't take any crap.

STEP THREE: The Real Seven Signs

Olay are way off track. Here's the real deal: the NEW seven signs of ageing. Finally, something to look forward to. This is what's to come, girls. I tell ya, it only gets better from here on.

  1. Emotional maturity
  2. Wisdom, self-confidence, self-esteem
  3. Owning your own house
  4. Sense of perspective on life
  5. Sexual confidence
  6. Career develops
  7. Financial security

And here are seven signs of ageing as envisaged by Lisa:

  1. Ability to look sexy with her eyes without relying on eye makeup
  2. Ability to appear confident without using 'power accessories'
  3. Ability to maintain grace in any situation
  4. Knows how to have great phone sex
  5. Knows that getting a facelift will not make her look younger, but will make her look like a woman with a facelift
  6. Wears the clothes she loves, and doesn't care about the fashion industry
  7. Knows that a lifetime of health and happiness will do more good for her skin than Oil of Olay.
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